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For more than a century, the small town of Haddan, Massachusetts, has been divided, as if by a line drawn down the centre of Main Street, separating those born and bred in the 'village' from those who attend the prestigious Haddan School. But one October night the two worlds are thrust together by an inexplicable death and the town's divided history is revealed in all its complexity. The lives of everyone involved are unravelled: from Carlin Leander, the fifteen-year-old scholarship girl who is as loyal as she is proud, to Betsy Chase, a woman running from her own destiny; from August Pierce, a loner and a misfit at school who unexpectedly finds courage in his darkest hour, to Abel Grey, the police officer who refuses to let unspeakable actions - both past and present - slide by without notice.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099286523
ISBN-10: 0099286521
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 21mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 5-Jul-2001
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » The small town of Haddan, Massachusetts, was built too close to the river Haddon and significantly subject to floods. Closest and most vulnerable is a 'progressive' boarding school, for rich, out-of-town kids. But the school doesn't take part in anything to do with the town. Haddan consists of two quite separate worlds, each harbouring distrust of the other. At the school rules are lax, both staff (who have their own agendas) and students turn a blind eye to regulations. Alchol is drunk (in large quantities), tobacco and pot smoked. On summer nights boys and girls escape to the woods and river banks; whole nights are spent by boys in the girls' rooms. There is bullying. Carlin Leander (not rich, at the school on sufference and a swimming scholarship) and August Pierce (a clever, idiosyncratic boy with secrets) are alien to all: misfits and instant friends, until Carlin catches the eye of Harry McKenna, the school 'stud'. Her infatuation with Harry drives Gus further within himself. He becomes increasingly eccentric and elusive. Then something truly shocking happens and the whole community collapses into confusion, horror and recrimination. American writers have a special talent for evoking life in small rural communities - usually superficially placid, but seething underneath with vendettas. Alice Hoffman - mistress of the art - leads the reader purposefully into her own schismatic world. Using tiny, almost irrelevant, detail, she reveals places and people we feel are only just beyond the corners of our eyes. Minor as well as major players are cunningly invoked. And over all hangs a brooding, uneasy cloud of menace which crinkles the scalp. Something - very unpleasant - is going to happen. A tale of the thoughtless arrogance of youth and its shocking capacity to torment, but the message in its aftermath is one of both sorrow and hope. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » Hoffman, a gifted writer who's been treading water lately (Local Girls, 1997, etc.), is in much better form with this compelling portrait of class tensions and personal longings in the small-town Massachusetts. Since 1858, the Haddan School has educated the children of the wealthy, who barely notice the village residents. More than 50 years after local girl Annie Howe, unhappily married to the schools womanizing headmaster, hung herself from the rafters of the girls dormitory, town-gown fraternizing still seems a bad idea. Three new arrivals, though, quickly upset the smug status quo. Carlin Leander, transported from working-class Florida on a swimming scholarship, catches the fancy of handsome Harry McKenna, nasty top dog among the popular students. Betsy Chase, hired as photography instructor because shes engaged to ambitious history teacher Eric Herman, finds herself attracted to Abe Grey, a town cop with a checkered past. And Gus Pierce, a brilliant but troubled new student, defies the vicious hazing (led by Harry) to which the faculty turns a blind eye. When Guss body is discovered in the river, everyone wants to sweep the matter under the rug. But Abe needs to honor the legacy of his upright grandfather, purge his bitter knowledge of the towns current corruption, and redeem the sorrow of his brothers long-ago suicide, as well as Annie Howes. He persists, and some measure of justice is meted out to the guilty, though theres plenty of suffering for the innocent as well. Hoffman balances a biting depiction of Haddans snobbery and moral failures with her usual breathtakingly beautiful evocations of the natural world (laid on a little thick here). Her appealing protagonists find happiness, and a series of supernatural events suggest the existence of a higher order that will not allow evil to prevail . . . entirely. A host of complex, well-drawn characters and a strong story make up for a slight tendency to overdo the magic realism in a novel sure to please Hoffmans many fans. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman is the bestselling author of acclaimed novels, including Here on Earth (an Oprah Book Club selection), Practical Magic (a Hollywood film), The River King, Blue Diary, Turtle Moon and most recently Skylight Confessions. Blackbird House was shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. She divides her time between Boston and New York City.

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